A historian has many duties. Allow me to remind you of two which are important. The first is not to slander; the second is not to bore. Voltaire
Ever wondered why the Irish were reluctant to wear a Kilt. I came across this article some years ago and I think you might find it interesting.
The Prince Consort's New Clothes
On the Kilt and the Internet
By Marc Holthof
A picture by Carl Haag dated 1854 exhibited in Windsor Castle's Royal Library, shows us "An Evening at Balmoral". The prince consort, Albert, offers up a freshly killed deer to his young bride Queen Victoria on the steps of the Scottish castle. The scene is illuminated by torch light. Just like the little boy at Queen Victoria's side, Prince Albert is wearing a short dress: he is wearing a kilt. His knee-high stockings are decorated with the typical Scottish plaid, the so-called "Tartan".
A chain of lies
Even today Edinburgh still entices tourists from all corners of the world with images of plaided bagpipe-players doing what they do best during the traditional tattoo. Even today you can buy Scottish tartan-kilts on Edinburgh's fancy Princess Street, together with other souvenirs and gimmicks whose single function it is to conjure up Scotland's rich past. Tartan-patterns are registered and approved by Lyon Court in consultation with the Standing Council of Scottish Chiefs. During the mid-sixties the Scottish Tartan Centre was founded in Stirling, where all Tartan-research is supposed to be done. The kilt, after all, is serious business.
In 1822 Victoria's predecessor George IV visited Edinburgh. This was the first time royalty from the house of Hannover visited the Scottish capital, so naturally all possible preparations were made to turn this visit into an incontestable success. The organizing committee was presided by famous novelist Sir Walter Scott and Colonel David Stewart of Garth. The event ended in a genuine celebration of the Highland Clans, complete with plaid, bagpipes and kilts. Even the king (who was born in Germany) appeared in a kilt, took part in a Celtic parade en toasted the chiefs and clans of Scotland.
Thirty years later, in 1850, General James Browne published his 'History of the Highlands and the Highland clans', his definitive volume on both the noble Scottish tribes and the tartans, the colourful plaid with which they decorate their kilts. Twenty-two of the colour illustrations in James Browne's classic work were plainly borrowed from the 'Vestiarum Scoticum'(1842) by John Sobieski Stuart. Of this beautifully illustrated volume, a masterwork of early colour-printing, only 50 copies appeared in print. Much earlier, in 1829, the two Stuart brothers had already announced to rich Scotsman Sir Thomas Dick that they had an important manuscript in their possession: the manuscript was called 'Vestarium Scotticum or The Garderobe of the Scots', and used to belong to the personal confessor of Mary "Queen of Scots"; the manuscript was entrusted to their father by "Bonny Prince" Charles Edward Stuart, the legendary leader of the revolt against the English reign in 1745. In 1844 the Stuart brothers published a new work: 'The Costume of the Clans'. This beautiful folio was dedicated to King Ludwig I of Bavaria, "the restorer of the Catholic Arts of Europe". This was a monumental work, one of the milestones in the historiography of the kilt and the tartar-patterns. Unfortunately, 'The Costume of the Clans' never got the attention it deserved. So it wasn't the Stuart brothers but General James Browne who wrote the standard work on Scottish dress.
What had happened? Well, in 1846 the two Stuart brothers claimed the throne: they claimed to be the last surviving Stuarts to descend from Bonny Prince Charles himself. An article in the renowned 'Quarterly Review', however, thwarted their royal pretence. The brothers, who kept court on a beautiful island near Inverness, were thus forced to flee to Pressburg. Later on in their lives they returned to London, where they died in poverty, but not without making some more unsuccessful claims on the English throne.
The brothers Stuart, alias Hay, but actually Allen (their name changed according to their romantic claims of illustrious lineage), were no more than colourful con artists. They were exposed, but their book on Highland attire lived on and was plundered by a number of interested parties. One of these was James Logan (who was seriously injured as a child when a hammer that was used during the Highland Games landed on his head) whose 'Clans of The Scottish Highlands' bore more than a superficial resemblance to the Stuart brothers' masterpiece. Another was General James Browne. They were all "inspired by" 'The Costume of the Clans' and 'Vestiarum Scoticum'.
Alas, as can be expected from professional hustlers like the Stuart brothers, their Costume of the Clans was based on ... nothing. The two authors loved to refer to mysterious sources that were nowhere to be found, like a manuscript containing poems by Ossian and other Celtic literature "that was acquired by late knight Watson in Douai, but is now unavailable", or a Latin manuscript from the fourteenth century that was found in a Spanish monastery which mysteriously disappeared, and of course their own 'Vestiarum Scoticum' which they dated back to the fifteenth century on the basis of "internal data". The truth was that no one, not even Sir Walter Scott, got to see the original manuscript. There is no connection between the tartan-patterns and the old Scottish clans. Everything was made up by the Stuart brothers to please a number of important weaving mills. A grand tradition which lives on till this very day is based on deceit and romantic fairy tales.
The Stuart brothers weren't the only forgerers in/of Scottish history. As early as 1760 another duo, the unrelated James Macpherson and the Reverend John MacPherson, had set the standard. With a couple of forgeries they succeeded in creating both an indigenous Scottish literature and a new history for the Highlands. To do this they had to put history on its head: James Macpherson plagiarized Irish ballads in composing his Ossian-epic, which he then claimed was an original text: the Irish ballads he had robbed he presented as an uninspired retelling of the original epic poems of Ossian. In 1807, after Macpherson's death, a falsified Celtic version of the Ossian-poems appeared in print (Macpherson had of course provided an English "translation"), of which quite a few words ended up in the Gaelic dictionary! James' partner and soul mate John Macpherson took care of the necessary historical background for the Ossian-forgery. According to this Macpherson, the Scottish Highlands (which are shielded from the Lowlands by the Grampian Mountains) were not, as conventional history has it, colonized by Irish sailors during the sixth century. Macpherson provided a counter-history that had the Celts living in Scotland four centuries before that time, and claimed that the Irish had stolen their literature from the Scots, and in particular from that Celtic Homer: Ossian. James Macpherson, the actual inventor of Ossian, supported his partner's historical claims in his 'Introduction of the history of Great Britain and Ireland' (1771). Thus a chain of lies was established, that has not been broken till this day.
Still, not every Scotsman was equally enthusiastic about the whole Highland, tartan-kilt fuss. J.G. Lockhart, Walter Scott's son-in-law, wrote about his father-in-law's reception of George IV in 1822 as a "collective hallucination", in which the glory of Scotland was identified with the Celtic tribes that "constitute but a small, almost insignificant part of the Scottish people." Lord MacCauley, himself a Highlander, wrote that "the last British king who held a court in Holyrood thought that he could not give a more striking proof of his respect of the usages which had prevailed in Scotland before the Union, than by disguising himself in what, before the Union, was considered by nine Scotchmen out of ten as the dress of a thief."
Lord MacCauley was right: the kilt, that prime symbol of the Scots, was not the notorious attire worn by the old Scottish clans. On the contrary: the kilt turns out to have been an invention of the despised British.Irish immigrants on the Scottish West coast wore the traditional Celtic "belted plaid": a draped blanket that was tied around the waist with a belt. The Lowland Scots wore plain trousers. It was an English industrial by the name of Thomas Rawlinson who first introduced the kilt. Rawlinson was the proud owner of an iron-foundry in Invergarry. He thought that the long Scottish blankets in which the Highlanders used to dress themselves were well suited for hunting or climbing mountains, but not for chopping wood and definitely not for foundring iron. This is why Rawlinson, together with the regimental tailor of Inverness, dreamt up the kilt: a short-skirted version of the "belted plaid"
The kilt got popular when Sir Walter Scott dressed it around the royal waist of George IV during that historical visit in 1822. Later on, the kilt was also worn by Albert, the prince consort. Both George and Albert were Germans (in 1847 Queen Victoria acquired the estate in Balmoral, where Prince Charles is still running around in his kilt today). So it turns out that Scotland's most important symbol was thought up by an Englishman, who was not thinking about safeguarding the traditional Scottish way of life but of purely modern, industrial considerations. It is also true that the kilt was promoted by the English royal family as a way to justify their authority over the whole of the British Isles. Once again, a romantic symbol is discovered to be a by-product of industrialisation. Once again, a nationalistic emblem turns out to be a product of the modern nation-state.
I've talked about this history at length (it is also treated quite extensively in Hugh Trevor-Ropers' essay 'The Highland Tradition of Scotland' in Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger's classic 'The Invention of Tradition') because it's a classic case-study of a number of confusions, misunderstandings, lies, manipulations and forgeries that have led to a contemporary (in this case relatively innocent) reality: the tourist industry in Edinburgh and other crowd-pullers. The history of the kilt shows how fictions become incontrovertible "truths" even "traditions" because of political and industrial interests (Scottish nationalism and Scottish weavers). Equally absurd stories that are, however, a lot more horrible can be told about former Yugoslavia, Ruanda, Germany, ... And stories a lot more insignificant can be told about nationalism in Flanders.
Lie and Disorder
In his 'Wahrheit und Methode' (1960) Hans-Georg Gadamer stresses the importance of tradition. He claims (following Heidegger) that a fundamental unity exists between thought, language and the world. It is through language that the horizon of the "now" comes into being. This language, however, is always marked by the past. Through language the past lives on in the present and thus represents tradition. According to Gadamer the Enlightenment made an important mistake when it failed to take these "prejudices" and traditions seriously: the burden of the past was too easily discarded. Gadamer claims that it is tradition which shapes our ways of understanding and interpreting the world through language. And this tradition, he is well aware, does not exist of itself. It must constantly be embraced, confirmed and cultivated. It also requires (but Gadamer doesn't tell us this) reinterpretation and pure make-belief.
In their latest book, 'Antiracisme', the Belgian linguists Blommaert & Verschueren are a lot more careful: "Diversity should be taken seriously. In this process it is the individual who takes centre stage, not the group. Groups are always constructed on a basis of arbitrary criteria, of which some are culturally inspired. Culture does exist in a general sense. And cultural differences are equally real, if only because they are experienced as a reality. But just as biology has shown that "race" does not exist (because there are no population groups that can unequivocally be described on the single basis of variable biological characteristics), cultures cannot be described as separate units." In a footnote Blommaert & Verschueren refer to Hobsbawm & Ranger's 'The Invention of Tradition', which we have cited above.
The kilt-problem that we're confronted with is the following: no matter how imaginary and fantastic it may be, no matter how closely it is tied to Macpherson & Macpherson, Walter Scott or the Stuart brothers, the lie has become a historical reality. The Highland-myth does exist. You can find it on any bottle of Scotch. You can buy kilts and tartan-fabrics on Princess Street. The fiction has become a reality. No matter how "fake" or forgered, tradition does exist.
Full article available here http://www.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-9605/msg00042.html